Heinz catching up to economic realities

The ketchup king will be able to compete better with private-label brands.

By Jonathan Berr Nov 18, 2011 11:49AM

In an effort to cement its position on the grocery lists of cash-strapped consumers, H.J. Heinz Co. (HNZ) will introduce a lineup of products priced between 99 cents and $1.99 in the current quarter.

According to a press release from the Pittsburgh company, the line includes a 10-ounce variety of Heinz ketchup in "innovative stand-up pouch packaging with a spout" (suggested retail price of 99 cents); a 9-ounce version of the Heinz Yellow Mustard found in restaurants (99 cents); new sizes of Heinz Worcestershire sauce and Heinz 57 sauce (around $1); Heinz Home Style Beans in varieties (priced above $1) and a 1-pound version of Ore-Idea French fries ($1.99).

National brand-name food makers such as Heinz are facing increasing pressure from cheaper, private-label or store-brand rivals, whose sales have skyrocketed by 40% over the past decade. The Private Label Manufacturers Association, a trade group, estimates that buying store brands saves U.S. consumers $32 billion annually. Experts expect store brand sales to continue to grow.

Heinz seems to be holding its own against store brands and rivals who sell national brands. All are also facing rising food costs. The company's shares are up about 5% this year, outperforming rivals such as Campbell Soup (CPB), down 3.85%, and Unilever (UN), up 4%.  Both Kraft (KFT) and organic maker Hain Celestial Group (HAIN) vastly outperformed Heinz, gaining 10.9% and 29% respectively.

Heinz reported better-than-expected results Friday for its fiscal second quarter. Net income fell about 6% to $237 million, or 73 cents a share, versus $251.4 million, or 78 cents, a year earlier. Revenue rose 8% to $2.83 billion amid strong global ketchup sales. Excluding one-time items, profit was 81 cents, a penny better than Wall Street expectations. Analysts had expected revenue of $2.91 billion.

The company also reaffirmed its previously announced guidance of $3.24 to $3.32, excluding one-time items, for the 2012 fiscal year. That's weaker than the $3.33 analysts had expected. Sales growth will be 7% to 8%, lower than the 8.9% growth Wall Street was hoping for. That, along with the year-over-year profit decline, explains the drop in share price on Friday.


For investors who get in now, however, the company's stock may prove as tasty as its products.

A cheaper line of products could lift sales. Plus, Heinz shares are cheap at a price-to-earnings multiple of 17.58, far below the 29.81 average multiple of its industry peers. It also offers a fat dividend yield of 3.63%, well ahead of the 1.93% of its industry peers and the 2.25% of the S&P 500.

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